Ethical Shopping 101

Though sweatshops remain a fact of the global garment industry, Jake Blumgart notes that there is one market where the anti-sweatshop movement has been making progress – college apparel:

Universities contract with garment companies to produce their branded apparel and students have points of leverage that are unavailable to most consumers, allowing them to more easily hold companies accountable for abuses that take place within their supply chains. Student groups like the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) have been able to pressure universities and colleges to force their suppliers to accept independent inspections from organizations like the Workers Rights Consortium, and make the necessary improvements (or else lose a highly lucrative dedicated market).

In 2009, for example, Russell Athletic rehired 1,200 Honduran workers who had been fired after organizing a union and agreed to allow unionization in other factories after a sustained student campaign that resulted in many university and college administrations suspending contracts with the company. No comparative arrangement exists for consumers outside the higher education sector, because they lack a direct relationship to the retail institutions where they purchase apparel and because it is much harder to organize consumers outside of a small geographic area like, say, a campus.